Divorce tends to focus on children, support and property division. But increasingly who gets the pets has become a big litigation issue. As detailed in this article, spouses who spend thousands a year on their pets are willing to spend thousands to keep those pets after divorce.
Generally, the law has treated pets as property, no different than a dining room table. But as pets have come to occupy a greater place in people’s lives, often to the equivalence of a child, the law has had to catch up.
Interestingly, three states – Alaska, Illinois, and California – now have statutes that require the family court to treat the division of pets in more of a custodial fashion, including the authority to have a shared custody schedule and payment of pet support.
In Missouri, we have not progressed as far as other states and we continue to treat pets as property under the law. However, spouses have the ability to structure into a settlement agreement a custody plan for pets. Spouses should request their attorneys work these matters into the overall settlement early, and cover custodial and support issues related to the pets where the courts themselves cannot. Indeed, knowing that the court may simply choose by lot which spouse gets a pet could be enough to encourage spouses to find common ground.
If you have questions about pet custody, contact us – we can help.